Let’s Close Prisons Instead of Schools

“Message to President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan: the nation would be a lot better off if you concentrated on closing prisons rather than closing schools” from Mark Naison’s blog.
Thank you, Mark.
Every time I go to Chicago I’m reminded about by obsessive fear and fascinating with imprisonment.  My friend, Amanda Klonsky, has spent her adult life on the issue of juvenile imprisonment, in part as a teacher of imprisoned juveniles.  On returning from Chicago I was confronted once again with it over Thanksgiving,  when I met a cousin twice removed (or something like that) who is now in college and considering going into this field.
I think I try to avoid the question of prisons as much as I do because  I’m already claustrophobic, a bit of a hermit, and have trouble being “obedient”.  It terrifies me.  But, for the same reason,  I’ve been involved over the years in one or another prison-related cause.  And then I run away from it.
About decade ago I got involved with some faculty at Bard College who were teaching the liberal arts to high-security prisoners.  I went to their graduation ceremony in prison.  And then I dropped it.  The Devil’s invention of Hell and our American invention of modern prisons are eerily similar.
The recent legalization of some drugs–which are the primary excuse we use for imprisoning so many black people–brought it to the fore once again during the election campaign, as well as reading Michelle Alexander’s compelling The New Jim Crow.
There is no nation on earth that comes close t us in rates of incarceration.  We outdo them all by an incredible ratio.  Why why why?
And why is it not only not at the top of our national agenda–but not on it at all.  No, schools are not to blame.  Of course, more humane schools–that are not themselves “prison lite” could help.  But there are many nations with worse schools and less imprisonment.  In fact, all.
It’s not a popular issue.  But I’d forgive Obama for compromising on almost everything else–almost, you’ll note–if he’d tackle this one.
I just had to get this off my chest.

2 Responses

  1. Deb,

    My doctoral research was based on the alternative learning environment Seymour Papert and I created within Maine’s juvenile prison for teens. I spent the better part of three years working within that system and my dissertation is a testament to the success of the best progressive learner-centered traditions, even within a culture where Amnesty International documented torture of children and with a population of kids abandoned as incapable of learning.

    That experience gives me plenty of confidence on the efficacy of the ideals we share. Too bad every “new” approach to educating at-risk kids is about coercion, uniforms and doing more of what hasn’t worked louder.

    When I have the occasion to speak about this work, I am horrified by the number of people who come up to me to report that they teach in a juvenile correctional facility. Business sure is booming!

  2. Unfortunately, very true. I’ve wondered many times why this is. It seems to be a cnboimation of so many factors. Of the top leadership of the overseas company I worked at before my current Job, only one was a woman. Yet, under the top leadership the vast majority of the employees were women. It was frustrating women were by far more willing to get up and move to a foreign country, but only to get there and have men running the show with one exception. How can this be? Why does it happen? I’d love to hear more! So many women that I worked with were either holding working hard until they could leave there jobs and get married, or had followed a man over there. It shocked me how few were ambitious in and of themselves. I really don’t understand it!

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